The tadpole

David Chapman

I can remember as a child being captivated by the metamorphosis of tadpoles into frogs, writes David Chapman

I can still remember watching in fascination as tadpoles, which were held in a tank in my classroom, developed legs and began to climb out of the water. Many years later, and a few years wiser, I am still just as amazed by this process as I ever was.

If you have a garden pond one of the biggest miracles of nature is likely to be happening in it right now. The frogs in the pond in our garden laid their eggs in February. Each female will have laid somewhere in the region of 2,000 eggs in a ball of jelly. Many eggs die, turning opaque when they do, but the rest will take about two weeks to hatch.

When tadpoles are first born they are little more than a mouth, gills and a tail. Inside their gut is the remainder of the jelly from their egg and this sustains them for the first few days of life. After about a week the tadpole will be strong enough to swim and search for food, which for the next few days of life, consists entirely of algae.

After about four weeks the tadpole starts to lose its gills and develop teeth. Soon after this their back legs develop, their diet changes and they become carnivorous. They will eat any animal matter they can find whether dead or alive. Try putting a finger in the pond and they might even help you to exfoliate. After another few weeks the tadpole develops front legs and the head shape of a frog.

The final change occurs as the tail becomes reabsorbed by the tadpole and utilised as a source of protein. This is when the tadpole ceases to be a tadpole and becomes a tiny frog, often referred to as a froglet. It emerges from the water becomes completely carnivorous and breathes both through its moist skin and by using its lungs.

The whole process of metamorphosis will have taken about three or four months and these froglets will remain on dry land for the next three years before they are sexually mature and will return to water to breed for themselves.

As I sit and watch them I often wonder how many of the two thousand eggs will make it that far?

David Chapman's stunning photograph of the tadpole won first place in the 'Wildlife in the Garden' section of this year's International Garden Photographer of the Year competition. Click here to read more about how David took the shot.

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